Alive! is best known as an "all-women jazz quintet." Based on their show at Up Henry's last night, they should be better known as a jazz band with a swinging rhythm section and a spectacular lead singer. All five members of Alive! are solid jazz musicians; vocalist Rhiannon and bassist Susanne Vincenza are much more than that.
"Somebody's Talking to You" was swung into action by Vincenza's strutting bass line. Rhiannon then transformed the feminist lyrics into bebop scat singing full of soft whispers, percussive pops and quivering harmonies. On "I've Got a Ticket," Rhiannon was joined by pianist Janet Small and percussionist Carolyn Brandy for tight trio harmonies reminiscent of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Then Rhiannon -- who studied with Jon Hendricks and sounds like Annie Ross -- took off on a dizzling solo of staccato triplets.
"Dark Side of the Moon" from their recent debut album, was in a more avant-garde vein. Changing rhythms erupted in spurts of piano and congas before receding into the stillness of bells and bowed bass. On an unaccompanied scat solo, Rhinannon wove together every available jazz vocal technique from soft moans to piercing cries. The result was a wholly invented but still eloquent language.
Some of Brandy's lyrics were platitudinous, and the group's sound was a bit rhythm-heavy. But these were small irritations compared to Alive!'s many pleasures. The San Francisco quintet will be at Up Henry's through Saturday.